Naming a character is as important as a plot in a novel. A name does many things; identifies a character’s origin, tells you who they are, or can even hint at a destiny. Whatever the reason, choosing a characters name–and choosing wisely–is one of the most important acts in writing a novel.
Where does your character come from? Are they from the middle-east, Africa, an island nation? Are they even human? These are questions that have to be addressed, but especially if you’re writing a fantasy novel where you may be dealing with a wide cast of characters and an adventure that will span kingdoms and continents. Not only will a name correctly affiliate a character with a time and place, but it will act as a means of distinction between that character and others.
Who Are They?
Names can give clues to a character’s identity. Take Percy Jackson from the self-named series. Percy is named after Perseus, a demigod of Greek mythology and one of Zeus’ offspring. Percy is the son of Poseidon, not Zeus, but his name is telling. Percy is a demigod and from page one he’s neck deep in trouble.
In most books characters either stumble into events or are thrust into them by life altering actions of others. But what about characters thrust into action by fate? What about destiny? Eragon from the Inheritance Saga could be argued as one of these. A poor farm boy who finds a dragon egg, he’s thrust into an epic adventure after everything he cares about is destroyed. It’s an adventure that takes him across the land and places him in opposition to a mad king. But where is his destiny, you ask? In his name.
In the first book you learn that Eragon was named after an ancient elf who found a dragon egg during a war between his people and the dragons. The elven Eragon kept the dragon and the two of them brought an end to the war and forged a peace between their races which eventually gave rise to the Dragon Riders. To be named after someone often brings great expectations. When that person saved the world, those expectations can be preordained.
An interesting plot is important to a novel and you should invest time in developing it, but a character’s name is equally important. Names define people, tell us who they are and what they’ll do. If you begin with a good name, a great plot will follow.